EARLIER in the year I placed two bets, a rare occurence these days and only done on this occasion as I had secured a couple of free ones from the friendly bookmaker that sponsors a fun “Pick Your Pro” competition run by the Association of Golf Writers.
Both were ante-post wagers for a few weeks hence but, unfortunately, one of those slips has already been ripped up and tossed in the bin. It followed the tragic death a fortnight ago of racehorse Darlan, favourite for the Champion Hurdle at next month’s Cheltenham Festival.
As for the other crumpled slip of paper tucked away in my wallet, I’m hoping the formbook will get a much-needed boost this week, having plumped for Rory McIlroy to win the US Masters when the 2013 major circuit tees off at Augusta National in early April.
In hindsight, it was almost a moment of madness that I took odds of 5-1, paltry for a golf tournament and very skinny for a major, even though McIlroy has landed two such titles in the last couple of years by runaway margins and should also have a Green Jacket hanging in his wardrobe.
For some unbeknown reason, I’d completely forgotten to factor in the significant change McIlroy had made since ending last season in almost unstoppable form by starting his 2013 campaign with a full set – well, once anyway – of new clubs in his bag.
In short, the world No 1’s first outing for Nike was a disaster, not just because he missed the cut in last month’s HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship but more so for the fact his body language after almost every shot was akin to a cry of anguish.
One of the puzzling things about McIlroy appearing in that Middle East event so early in the year was that he was then taking the next three weeks off, though having upset HSBC when he didn’t play in the WGC Champions event in China towards the end of last season all credit to the 23-year-old if he did so to avoid further criticism of his scheduling.
There’s simply no defending him, though, for his decision, after just one round with his shiny equipment, to put his old Scotty Cameron putter back in the bag for day two. Sorry, no matter what the contract says and it’s common practice for players to have a clause that allows them to use a couple of clubs of their choice, that didn’t send out a positive message at the start of a relationship that is making him a rich young man.
Now, as McIlroy prepares for take (or should that be tick) two and he’ll have whacked a fair few balls over the last three weeks in order to get a better feel of that new equipment, the irony, of course, is that he could be sent packing after just one round this time.
There are no second chances in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, which starts tomorrow at Dove Mountain in Arizona. First up for the top seed in the knock-out event is a familiar foe in fellow Irishman Shane Lowry and the last thing McIlroy will want is to fall at the opening hurdle in this tournament for the first time.
It’s where he made his professional debut in the United States in 2009 and, 12 months ago, he revelled in the head-to-head format to reach the final in the desert, losing by 2 and 1 to Hunter Mahan in the title joust.
Little has been seen of McIlroy since Abu Dhabi, though, according to his new spokesperson/girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki: “he likes his new clubs and is very comfortable with them”. That comment will be put to the test this week, when almost every shot he hits will come under microscope.
In the Middle East, he was all over the shop, pulling some and pushing others. Some consistency will be the first box that needs to be ticked off and McIlroy will be hoping to use this event as a springboard for his defence of the Honda Classic title in Florida next week.
Quite quickly, though, McIlroy and his supporters will want to see signs of the prodigious driving ability, the free-wheeling that has made him so exciting to watch and the knack, once held by Tiger Woods but only occasionally these days, of holing those clutch putts.
Unlike poor Darlan, McIlroy is still in with a chance of making me a bob or two, but it is going to take a significant improvement from first time out to even raise hope of that particular wager proving profitable on Sunday, 14 April.
Caddies confirming alignment needs outlawed
ANCHORING may be on the agenda but the game’s rulesmakers should be looking at something far more distressing when it comes to the art of putting.
Until now, the sight of caddies standing behind a player and telling them the clubface is aligned, either on the hole or a spot close to it, has been restricted to the ladies’ game. It’s not right there and there should be no place for it either in events on the PGA Tour, as was the case in the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles with Charlie Beljan.
It came down to a play-off and for no other reason than Beljan doing something that, in my eyes at least, is effectively cheating, I found myself rooting for John Merrick, the eventual winner.
During the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship earlier in the year, I stood for a while at the side of the practice putting green to watch Peter Hanson do some drills with his short-game coach.
It was fascinating and all around them other players were either working with gurus or trying out all sorts of fancy contraptions in their quest to enjoy a successful week on the greens.
Once the gun goes off, it’s perfectly okay for a player to ask his caddie for advice on a line but no-one should be
allowed to have an outside influence to help them actually line up.
Instead, why don’t players ask their caddies to shout “Fore” when a ball is hurtling into the crowd because, by the looks of things, it’s something you rarely hear in top-level golf these days.
As these players are the role models for the next generation of golfers, it’s about time someone reminded them about one of the basic elements of the game’s etiquette.